Natural Foods Merchandiser

Sustie Awards honor farming co-op founder, chef and apprenticeship

Personal rewards for making environmentally sustainable choices in agriculture might not be readily apparent, but the Ecological Farming Association has been spotlighting leaders in the sustainable agriculture movement since 1988 with the Sustie (Stewards of Sustainable Agriculture) Awards. At this year's Eco-Farm Conference, in Pacific Grove, Calif., the EFA recognized George Siemon, chief operating officer and founding farmer of Organic Valley Family of Farms; sustainable-food chef Jesse Cool; and the University of California—Santa Cruz's Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture program.

Siemon, who has been an organic farmer for more than 20 years, guided a Wisconsin producers' cooperative as it evolved into Organic Valley Family of Farms, now the largest organic farmers' cooperative in North America. Organic Valley consists of almost 1,000 farmer-owners in 27 states, who generated $335 million in 2006. Siemon was recognized for championing farming systems that support family farmers economically while promoting the well-being of farm animals and preserving the quality of the land, water, air and wildlife.

For more than 30 years, chef Jesse Cool has supported local and organic agriculture in her culinary ventures, from creating five different restaurants to traveling internationally to encourage a sustainable- and organic-food dialogue with local producers, shopkeepers and families. Author of several cookbooks and national magazine articles, Cool has served on advisory boards for Slow Food and Sustainable Food Business Group. She has also been named one of the top 100 women business owners three times by the National Association of Women Business Owners.

The oldest program at UCSC's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture gives hands-on training in organic farming and gardening. More than 1,200 graduates have completed the six-month full-time program, many going on to operate commercial farms and market gardens, run community and school gardens, and work with international development, food policy and social justice programs. A handful of the apprenticeship's graduates have already received Susties themselves. UCSC Farm Manager Jim Leap and apprenticeship coordinator Diane Nichols accepted the award on behalf of the program.

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